It’s one of those elusive things: You see a pattern and feel incontrovertibly drawn to it, and very often you can’t even really identify why. Does it look fun to knit? Look good on a friend? Is the sample in a color you find irresistible, maybe even to the point that the item itself is almost irrelevant? Is it a matter of shaping, or texture, or aesthetic? Is it the photos? (Were they shot in some dreamscape that tugs at your soul?) Does it remind you of a favorite garment you once had? Is it exactly the shape you’ve been looking for? Written for a yarn you’ve been wanting to use? Sister tells you to? Published by your favorite designer or pattern company? Was at the top of Hot Right Now?
There are a thousand reasons why we might be attracted to a pattern, and we all lament the common experience of choosing poorly — casting on for the wrong reason and winding up with an unworn handknit that gives us the guilty feels. And hopefully we get better over time, knitting things that will not only be worn but loved. But that’s my Q for You today: How do you choose? What is it about a pattern that makes you download it and cast on, and are you able to identify the good triggers versus the not-so-good ones?
I was thinking about this over the weekend when it occurred to me that many of my best decisions were the result of getting to try one on, from Trillium to Channel to Cline. After many months of obsessing about a Carbeth Cardigan, I got to try on Shannon Cook’s Carbeth on Friday night — we were housemates in Seattle. It was that thing where you put something on and instantly go I’m never taking it off. It just fits, in all the ways. I woke up Saturday morning wishing that’s what I was wearing that day. And the next and the next and the one after that, which is how I finally knew for sure that it’s the right thing for me to cast on. Just as soon as I stop arguing with myself about yarn …
PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How many clothes do you make/buy each year?
Top photo by Kate Davies; bottom photo by Shannon Cook, used with permission
This is a curious question. After decades of knitting, I think I am pretty good at knowing what will suit me, and not losing time knitting things that really don’t. One of th0se things is raglan sweaters (narrow shoulders, large bust: raglan lines spotlight all my worst body parts), which makes it hard to esplain why I became obsessed with Carbeth, but I did. After weeks of obsession, I decided to make it as inexpenisvely as I could (Eco Wool, purchased on sale), and in a solid dark color to minimize the diagonal lines. I made it, and I love it, and have worn it often this fall, but I still can’t answer the question.
I have been in serious Use The Stash mode for about three years, and so the ability to use yarn that i already have figures strongly in my decision making process, especially for smaller projects like scarves and cowls. It doesn’t mean that I never buy yarn, but I have tried hard to eliminate the impulse purchases and only shop very very deliberately. So first choice is something which I really love, that fits into the general wardrobe schem that i already have going, and that uses yarn that’s already in my posession. That still doesn’t explain Carbeth, but make it anyway!
I am exactly like you with the stash busting. It’s both an advantage and a limiter (also an advantage, sometimes!) The reason the Carbeth may work for you is that the angle of the raglan is quite different than “normal” raglans and this likely accommodates your bust and narrow shoulders better than the regular ones. Also, the fact that it’s made in reasonably robust gauge (DK weight vs fingering) gives the finished garment more working ease, while still enabling a snug fit around shoulders. I haven’t made this – though I’ve looked at it often – because raglans aren’t my fave (not that I feel they are bad for busty, narrow framed peeps – because I too fit this description). I just prefer set in sleeves most of the time.
Agreed with all of this. The more horizonatal sleeve is exactly why it works. I rarely knit anything this bulky, but I decidedthat this was a primarily a jacket /outdoor sweater, and not expected to be for indoor weather, so because of that i also made it longer. But I agree: I much much prefer set in sleeves, and the overwhelming number of raglans and round yokes has put me off a lot of the recent offerings.
Maryinbend: I agree with you about the gauge; I didn’t see this as an indoor sweater.
I have finally learned not to knit a pattern just because it looks like a fun, or interesting, construction. Finally, I hope, I’ve learned that I need to knit patterns that suit my style and look good on me. And that means simple, mostly stockinette, and nothing heavier than dk.
Always looking for a pattern that I will wear without giving it a thought. Lovely things that I have to think about first tend to be neglected. My body type is very different from Kate Davies’ more feminine shape and have hesitated to try the Carbeth although I bought the original pattern. Would love to see a photo of you wearing the cardigan.
I’ve been hesitating about the Carbeth for the same reason – I’m a totally different shape to Kate and worried it will highlight my broad shoulders and hips, and swamp my smallish waist. But I saw a thread inviting knitters to post photos of their FO’s ( it was either on Ravelry or maybe Mason-Dixon) and every single one of them looked great. I’t clearly got magical powers!
Oh I’ve been wanting to knit that one up too- in that same stunning yellow.
I think I’m drawn to color/yarn first, pattern second. I have to admit a good photograph goes a long way with me, as does a story. Those things complete a piece of knitting for me as a piece of art. Then I have to step back and be very careful; I love watching friends knit up beautiful, complex cables and colorwork, but I just know those feelings are fleeting and those pieces would never hold up long-term in my closet. I very often add patterns like that to my Ravelry queue and wind up deleting them months later wondering ‘what was I thinking??’ It’s a good thing I’m a slow knitter, because it gives me a long time to think about the other items in my queue, and so I usually wind up editing myself just enough.
I’m definitely drawn to interesting and well-taken photos at first, like when scrolling through Instagram or Ravelry. After that, looking to see if it’s my style (obviously) and to see other people’s projects really makes me interested in a pattern.
I choose a pattern based first on whether the finished product will be useful in my lifestyle, stylish and flattering. Raglans are generally excluded because they tend to be too baggy just above the full bust on me, and bunch up around the chest. I’m not a fan of bulkiness, as I don’t have big hair to co mplement the silhouette of a bulky sweater. Thus, bulky sweaters tend to overstate themselves on me, and they don’t fit under outerwear without giving rise to the sausage look. The second big issue is how a piece is constructed. I avoid bottom up construction unless it can be easily converted to top down and knit in one piece, and I can make a strong, invisible shoulder with a magic cast on or crochet cast on, not possible for me to get the same shoulder seam and pattern control with bottom up. I find top down so much easier to adapt to individual recipients’ shapes, lengths and shoulder widths. I also prefer charted patterns to directions written out line by line. Often I pass up a nice looking pattern because the description is not clear about how the instructions are presented and how the pattern is to be worked (i.e., top down, charted, etc.). I rely heavily on reviews and photos on Ravelry for guidance. Ravelry is invaluable in so many ways!!
I smiled reading your comment because you and I are like matter and anti-matter – everything that appeals to you in a garment’s construction repels me, and vice versa. That’s why it is a good thing there are all kinds of patterns in the knitterverse.
Hmm – i’d love to hear more on strong, invisible shoulder cast-ons with top down sweaters. Do you mean c/o for a set-in sleeve or some sort of reinforcement at the shoulder?
Well taken photos making me want to touch item are probably what makes me fall in love first. Then I start to consider if it would look good on me or the intended recipient. It has taken a while to be able to make decent judgments about a pattern by looking at it. I’ve knitted at least 3 sweaters for myself that were a disappointment when completed. I’m a much better judge of reading recipes and knowing if I will like the result but then I’ve had more experience. I love the Carbeth but I think it’s too short to look good on me and my talents aren’t quite at the point where I could make alterations to the pattern to get it to the length I’d like. One day perhaps after completing a few more projects.
i will be honest a good photo is a total sell for me. i do try to talk myself down sometimes….like that is soooo gorgeous but common…would it actually get worn?
And yes, Carbeth is WELL WORTH purchasing and making. i am waiting for cooler weather to wear the crap out of mine. i made it right at the end of the cold spell last year so i only got to wear it once.
This is such a good question, and just thinking about it can help in the quest to knit something I will actually wear. Often when I choose a pattern it’s because it is beautifully photographed/looks amazing on the model, and looks fun to knit; and I am just starting to learn that “fun to knit” does not always translate into something that I will love wearing. So going through projects on ravelry and seeing how it looks on regular people, as opposed to professionally photographed in beautiful settings, can help me decide if it would fit into my life and wardrobe. Something that looks amazing trekking through snow-covered mountains is, sadly, not going to get very much use from someone who goes into a professional office every day. Even being a Michigander, I still have very few occasions to wear a bulky icelandic pullover, for example (such a fun knit, though!). Of course, the knitting still has to be enjoyable, so I always read through project notes on Ravelry to see if there were consistent issues with the knitting or anything like that, and if it involves techniques I enjoy knitting but results in something suitable for my wardrobe.
Another thought, since someone above mentioned the usefulness of Ravelry–I, like most knitters, can spend hours scrolling through instagram and finding knitting inspiration, but I don’t think it offers the same practical info as ravelry. You can definitely see tons of things you would love to cast on immediately, but the photography aspect of it can again make a knit seem really tempting that would, alas, not be right for you.
Thanks for posing such a great question, Karen! It seemed simple but is clearly very thought provoking.
I am extremely picky on what I will knit. It must be the right style, shape, fit, yarn, etc. I actually find it hard to find the right pattern, which is how I got into designing my own.
No matter what first draws me to a design–color, how gorgeous it looks on the model, CABLES, etc.– if it isn’t right for my body shape and for my day-to-day life, I won’t knit it.
Recently, I went through my Ravelry library and got rid of several patterns (most of them added long ago in a rush of newbie knitter “omg, it’s a free pattern!” mindset) that I will never, ever, never never ever knit. That was as freeing as the closet clearing of SFO.
The other thing that really draws me to a pattern is if it’s knit flat and seamed. I’m okay-ish at reinforcing in-the-round garments by adding faux seams, but a sweater that’s knit flat and seamed really holds up well and, for me, is more comfortable in the long run. Maybe it’s because I’ve been sewing for decades longer than I’ve been knitting.
I agree – I am much more likely to knit and wear a garment with good structure. I don’t mind seaming, especially since I’m knitting for the long haul: most of the sweaters I knit I anticipate wearing for more than 10 years. Accordingly, classic shapes with interesting details (not trendy, but classic) draw me in.
I love this question. I’ve been knitting for about 10 years and I mostly make sweaters. I’ve made ones that are never worn, don’t look good on me and then there are ones that I live in. I want to enjoy the knitting process and also know that I will get a lot of use out of it. My current sweater checked off all the boxes!! I’m going through the college selection process with my son right now and I felt like I was doing the same thing when picking a pattern to knit. I’m working on the Quill Cardigan and it hit all the right notes. Easy to knit but had interest in the middle panel, has a chart, interesting but easy cables, open cardigan, pockets…it had it all. So to answer your question, it has to be a pattern that I will enjoy knitting and also will get lots of wear.
I too, agree with Liz N. Having sewn my clothes for a few decades, I truly appreciate structure added by seams. I also enjoy the process of seaming: still playing with yarn, color and texture, but using a different process. The weather in Southern California influences my summer knitting. Though I love a beautiful heavy woolen sweater, I rarely get to wear it – thus, a concerted effort to find interesting designs suitable for lightweight cotton and linen blends. (In the winter, I still go crazy knitting fabulous wool designs!)
Yes to seams! I am playing around with designing my own cardigan right now and have just thought of putting a seam at the sleeve which I think will look great and add strength. I want my stuff to last so strategic seams are a must.
I fell in love with the original pullover version of Carbeth, but told myself I needed more cardigans, not pullovers. Then the cardigan version came out and it seemed like fate. I LOVE IT SO MUCH!!!!! It’s very well-written and knit up so quickly.
Generally, I look at several people’s versions of a pattern to decide if the original pattern photography is what I thought it was. One especially fabulous photo can really skew my idea of what the shape of the garment actually is. It takes a lot of scrolling through Ravelry for me to decide if the pattern is really as great as the pattern photography makes it out to be.
I add knitting patterns to my library like fast fashion:) I am aware many of mine are similar-fair isle yokes, boxy look. Most end up being browsed, admired, possible yarn searches but not made. I really despise my messy sewn seams so in the round is my favorite. Also designers who write very good patterns will most likely get bought and made. (Caitlin Hunter and Andrea Mowry come to mind).
I first knit the Carbeth pullover. Fast, fun and wearable within a week from start to finish. The Carbeth Cardigan took me a month to knit and I chose to make it longer with smaller buttons and more of them. I like the way she writes her patterns and her photographs are stunning. I always advise my knit friends to go to the LYS and try on the sample. It often answers every question! Enjoy the knit- it is fun to knit something this quick!
The initial “hit” is so many things – and I’m thinking good photography is one of the first. How beautiful the photo is, I’ve come to see, is my hook. After a few knitting disappointments I look deeper now. I realized that just because someone hires a great photographer, picks a pretty setting and the loveliest of models does not mean the pattern will turn out looking that way (even with the same yarn.) So now when I’m snagged I go deeper. I consider ratings and I FOR SURE look at the projects knit by ordinary people like me. With well done patterns, well knit projects by/on ordinary people look great! Level two of pattern picking for me – the designers I’ve come to love because their patterns are so clear and come out looking like the picture. If there’s no ratings or projects, I look at the designers other offerings for how their patterns knit up.
Yes, good photography is my hook, too! After that, I start to look at the finished projects in Ravelry to get a more realistic idea. The reverse can be true for me, too: finished projects in Ravelry can sell me on a pattern that I had previously dismissed, especially if the maker has made modifications or sized the finished garment up or down. I’ve also come to know that I’m much more of a cardigan person than a pullover person. I run hot/cold, and cardigans make less of a mess of my curly hair when I remove/replace a cardigan throughout the day. (Pullover = giant frizz!) Another key for me is if the pattern lists the intended ease as well as the ease on the sample the model is wearing. That’s a huge help for me in figuring out which size will give me the look I want in a finished garment. I also prefer charts over line-by-line instructions, if I’m doing cables or color work, because it’s easier for me to see the correlation between the chart and the knitting.
I think texture draws me first, and color. And I’m a sucker for anything photographed in Shetland…I used to buy patterns like crazy, but now I have a system of organizing things that catch my eye into folders in ‘favorites’ in Ravelry, where I can come back to them later and be more deliberate in purchasing. I have sometimes bought patterns just to support a cause though, like the Water hat to help Flint MI, which I bought even though I rarely knit hats. And I agree with all above about the usefulness of Ravelry – being able to look through projects and see various people and yarns and modifications is SO helpful in deciding if a pattern is for me.
For me it’s: 1. is the pattern adjustable for my body type, 2. is it challenging (I’ve been knitting too long for a lot of stockinette) and 3. can I see the entire design from the images (I want a good sense of the entire design, not just a portion).
I definitely gravitate toward photos, first in the pattern itself, and then on the Projects page on Rav. I need to imagine myself wearing it, and see what it looks like when worn by several different makers. But the first impression for me is always the “cover” photo when scrolling.
This is a great question! I use ravelry almost exclusively to find my patterns and inspiration. Usually, I add a few ideas to my favourites and then use project photos and notes to determine whether the pattern will be a good fit, what mods I might need to make and if the style will suit me and my lifestyle. Sometimes, once I’ve decided on a pattern, I just can’t find the right yarn (I’m extremely picky!) so it’s back to the drawing board at this point! Finally, I’ve just had a baby, so the complicated brioche and fair isle patterns that I used to love are no longer featuring (tired, also not having much time and therefore wanting to progress faster through a project) and I’m now looking for things that I can knit easily without needing to constantly refer to the pattern. Which, to be honest, is probably a better fit for my style anyway!
I am attracted first by an interesting sweater feature then by color and yarn. Of course the photo sways me but the enthusiastic review usually pushes me over the edge. I also LOVE it when more than one yarn is recommended!
I would say most of those reasons have played, at one time or another, but like to think I’m getting better at deciding. I rarely get to try on other’s garments, but I have learned what I like and have been willing to re-knit a pattern that I love. Something I never thought I would want to do. I don’t hesitate to purchase a pattern I like, wanting to support independent designers, but the casting on is a different matter. Carbeth has been on my radar due to the number of knitters who have made one and love it. I’m glad to hear you felt the same after wearing one for a bit. It always helps me decide, as well, after investigating projects on Ravelry. Thank goodness for Ravelry!
I do a lot of exploration through knitting and choosing a pattern is not a hugely important decision for me. If I can afford it and it seems right, I go with it. I choose patterns or design things based on what I am curious about–learning, thinking about, or wearing. For my kids, I go with basics that they request, that they want, that will fit and suit them. For me? If I finish it and it doesn’t fit or look good or I end up not wearing it? I generally give it away to someone else. I’ve gotten good enjoyment and learning out of the spinning and/or knitting, and I don’t spend a fortune on yarns. So, I live in a very cold place. If it doesn’t keep me warm, it will likely help someone else. I almost never rip out a whole garment. That seems to be a waste of my work, especially when what doesn’t suit me might keep someone else from getting frostbite.
In short, I don’t see pattern choice as a crucial or defining part of my wardrobe. It could always end up being a finished product, well done, in someone else’s. My work isn’t precious, it deserves to be used.
As a very visual mind, for me, the pictures do really make it or break it when it comes to noticing a pattern on Pinterest, Ravelry, Instagram etc. But I never buy a pattern right away, instead I follow my own rule of the « three days »– meaning that I wait that long before buying a pattern, just to see if my positive feeling fades or not, if I have thought about that possible purchase or has it disappeared from my mind…
Otherwise, over the years, I have come to know more about what fits me or my needs, so I wouldn’t buy any pattern that would not fit this criteria (or if there would not be enough pictures and infos to get a good idea of the whole construction). For example, I tend to avoid raglans and too long sweaters, and would rather choose something cropped and a bit oversized, simple with an interesting detail somewhere. The yarn used in the pattern is not necessarily a criteria, as I have come to learn the ability to substitute yarns (with more or less success in the beginning, but I am getting better at it!).
I hate to admit that the picture of the model wearing the sweater does influence me. If a beautiful model looks bad in it, I move on. Then I check Ravelry to see how real people look in their projects. I look for people my age and build. Carbeth is in my must do. The cardigan looks like a great basic.
Oh, yes to this. I need to see it on a person, and that person needs to look even little bit like me.
I usually always have to see some that other ravelers have knitted up. It helps so much. Also, the power of suggestion…so when there are those whose knitting or style I admire I take note of what pattern is being knit. But I also can throw both those safeguards to the wind and just go with something!
Can’t wait to see what yarn you choose for your carbeth cardigan! And did you take a picture of yourself wearing it like you did with the Cline. Your Cline is still my favorite I’ve seen. I am finishing up a cardigan right now and really want a pullover. Thinking a traditional gansey or Cline.
Such a good question and such good answers. For me, specifically if I am looking at possible projects on Ravelry, I do serious filtering. So, I choose between cardigan or jumper, weight of yarn (mainly anything between fingering and Aran, rarely anything outside them), must be bottom up construction with seams, for a female adult. Once I am on to the filtered patterns, then the shape, texture, stitch patterns used etc will determine which ones I am interested in. After all this, I will generally log off Ravelry and knit a pattern which I have already used and know it will give a great result – I am more than happy to knit the same garment more than once. Today, however, I have been to my LYS and bought a new pattern and (almost unheard of) the exact wool in the exact colours shown in the brochure. I loved it the moment I set eyes on the photo then I saw it was by my favourite designer so I could rely on the instructions and design to please me. The photographed sample is in a palette of my favourite shades. Whilst I was in store, I tried on a lovely textured bulky cowl-neck sweater because it’s the kind if thing that could be hit or miss on me and I really liked how it looked so I agree that trying on things outside your comfort zone is really useful.
For me it’s completely about unique detail in construction. For example, in the photo at the top, my eye was instantly drawn to that diagonal row of stitching that extends underneath her arm. Garments that are thoughtful about those types of details are the kinds of things I want to make.
I love this question! It seems like such a simple thing to log on to ravelry and purchase a pattern so I appreciate that I’ve stopped to think about my own shopping habits. Also, as a self-proclaimed knitwear designer I love seeing what factors into the purchase decision for consumer.
For me, I like to look for patterns that I can learn something from – a new stitch, technique, method, etc. The pattern selections can change based on what’s happening in my life. I used to only knit bottom up & seamed garments, but now that I knit more from stash I really like top-down so that I can win at yarn chicken. I also now live in a very humid city, so finding patterns suitable for linen & cotton is a must.
I liked the Carbeth pullover but hesistated to buy the pattern as I just didn’t think it looked quite “me”. Then the cardi version arrived and that was my YES moment. My version is the same shade as the one in the first pic (deep yellow) and when worn, it’s the best mix of a pullover combined with almost a light jacket. Getting a lot of wear!
So many of us have commented on how important knitwear photography is, and how strongly a photo can affect us–and our decision whether or not to buy a pattern or knit something. Would anyone besides me like to see an article here that digs into the subject of knitwear photography?
I am easily distracted by the color and the photography, but when it comes to actually knitting something, I look first to see if it has some of the lines that don’t look good on me – sadly that includes dropped shoulders. Then I look to see who has made it and their project photos. Because no one ever has put out a pattern using anyone remotely shaped like me as the model. So I go in search of photos of real people modeling their knits. Then I try to imagine how it would be on me. Sadly, that is why I will never knit myself a carbeth. I am short and wide and big busted, and those lines cutting across me just above busty height would be less than flattering. But I love it and I want to. Maybe I will knit one for someone else…
Anyway, then I explore as much as I can without purchasing, the schematic or other details. I know what works for me, and I know how to do lots of alterations, but I see no point in paying for a pattern to rewrite the whole thing.
By sticking to shapes I know will work, I seldom make a really awful error, though I came close with my beloved hitofude. It was wonderful to knit, it fits, but it is less than flattering. I wear it anyway.
I agree with you about drop shoulders. I’ve seen a lot of gorgeous sweaters lately that I’ve gotten excited about, only to realize that they have drop shoulder construction. I’ve modified shoulders before, but with patterned drop shoulders, it would result in a completely different sweater. Since drop shoulders are trendy now, I’ve had to pass up a lot.
About the Carbeth, you should take a look at the Ravelry projects. There are quite a few busty women looking beautiful in their Carbeths.
I agree about having to pass up some cute sweaters because redesigning the sleeves is a complete redesign!! It makes me sad, but I move on. I have checked the carbeth projects, but not lately. I will give it another look!
I’ve knit a lot of sweaters and learned from mistakes along the way. This means I have far more handknits than I need so every new cast-on is an indulgence which needs to bring something new. I’ve had the Carbeth cardigan pattern since it came out and the thought that the neck might annoy me has stopped me knitting it so far. That and the expense associated with something which is unlikely to give more than a week’s knitting pleasure.
As a general rule it’s the colour and styling on the photo which primarily draws my eye.
I have my ~preferred designers~ and I pick patterns that use interesting textures. I do not keep a stash, I purchase yarn after I decide on a project. I like knitting garments and I’m picky about them but less picky about hat or shawl patterns. I usually see someone else’s project and get an idea like my favorite sweater is pebble held double after seeing your blondie sweater. I dislike the Cline sweater pattern pics but it looks so good on everyone else that it’s on my needles now (that and I frankensteined a self drafted sweater that I didn’t like the direction it was going in and it matched gauge)
I’m currently knitting a Flaum gardigan and my first reason for choosing it was the shape – I wanted something short and comfortable to wear with dresses. My second reason was the stitch. Fisherman ribs seem to be everywhere this season in my part of the world and although I don’t dress mainstream, I like a bit of connection sometimes.
Oh man, this is so relevant! I have a wasteland of gorgeous sweaters that I’ve made that ended up being somehow….wrong in the log run. I’ve been a sucker for good photos/stories, something for a yarn that I already had, something that looked fun to knit, all regardless of whether it suited me or my wardrobe. After lots of trial and error, my methodology for knitting stuff for myself is:
1) Figure out what I actually need/want in my wardrobe and start from there when searching for patterns to eliminate a lot of the “ooooh shiny!” temptations of unrelated patterns. Right now, I’m working on a garter cardigan in navy to replace a beloved sweater I bought in France that was acrylic and held together by its own pills in the end; the Marmor pattern by Regina Moessmer was almost an exact match for the old one. I also want a big, squishy turtleneck in an olive green for snow days when I’d rather be wearing PJs. Norah Gaughan’s Riptide for Brooklyn Tweed fit the bill (and I happened to have gotten the pattern free as in a BT order) and I fell hard for the Sulphur color in the recommended BT Quarry yarn.
2) Know what yarns and pattern designers work for me. This one you can’t learn except by trial and error, and I’ve had *lots* trials here, mostly errors. For example, Brooklyn Tweed yields consistent home runs for both my husband and me, and we both love their yarns, so I’ll often start there when looking for a new pattern. (Literally, whoever their male fit model is seems to been the exact replica of my husband’s measurements, so I can pretty much just always pick the 43″ size for him and be off to the races.) I used to worry philosophically that it was limiting to stick so closely to one design house — though, in fairness, they do use lots of designers — but the reality that nearly all of my and my husbands most-worn knit goods originated there more than makes up for that.
3) When I’m just dreamily browsing patterns with no real end goal and I see a beautiful one with gorgeous photos, I admire it, favorite it, and dream about it. But then, I ask: “If this were ready-made I buy this in a store for myself?” If the answer is no, automatic pass for the real world. I remind myself that even if the yarn is less money than the store-bought item (rare), it’ll always cost more in effort… and if I wouldn’t buy it for myself, I’m not going to magically start wearing it just because I made it. And I have the box of discarded, guilt-inducing sweaters to prove this point repeatedly and vividly.
4) Interwoven in all of this is knowing what I like to wear and what looks good on me. Hoods are out, and most colorwork doesn’t appeal. I gravitate towards V-neck cardigans (usually open front, sometimes shawl collared), turtleneck pullovers, subtle texture (some cables, moss or garter stitch), and top-down construction (since I’m taller and lankier than most patterns are written, the try-option really helps).
Like so many have said, photos are a huge initial draw – often the photos are what pull me in so that I consider a pattern further. But that’s probably all filtered through my personal preferences for fit and style. For instance, I think Andi Satterland’s photos and style are adorable, and lots of people seem to love her patterns, but I really really really hate wearing negative ease sweaters, so her patterns don’t draw me in even where the photos and styling are great. Similarly, the Throwback sweater by Andrea Mowry is beautifully styled and photographed, but I know that weight/shape cardigan doesn’t at all fit my personal style, so no interest. On the other hand, I love boxy oversized sweaters, so drool over Kate Davies’ Strathendrick even though the colorwork isn’t my style at all and I don’t think I have the fortitude for it in any case.
Something I do tend to weight heavily (perhaps unfairly) is whether the photos look professional. I say “perhaps unfairly” because I know a lot of indie designers don’t have the budget to hire professional photographers and are often their own models and photographers in one. But there’s something about bad/amateur-ish looking photos – again, this is probably unfair, but it makes me think the pattern will be amateur/unprofessional, so I tend not to look further.
Often I will start my pattern search with an idea of something specific I want to make (v-neck fingering cardigan, say), so filter for those things in Ravelry before even getting to the photos.
For sweaters, something that is TRULY helpful in drawing me in to a pattern is a schematic, or at least a photo of the finished sweater in schematic fashion (like how Brooklyn Tweed always includes a photo of the sweater laid flat on a white background so you can see the basic shape). I think by now my central focus in a pattern – what makes me think a pattern work for me or not work for me – is shape. I have no problem using a different yarn or a different color than the original (in fact, I usually do), so while a photo of a sweater in a color I love will probably get a second look, I feel relatively good about envisioning sweaters in different colors/yarns. But I’m not skilled at adapting the shape of a garment, apart from length of body (in top-down sweaters) and sleeves. If the shape/measurements work for me, I will happily mess around with the rest of it. So shape is probably the basic element that pulls me into a pattern.
(although I’m sure I also get sucked in psychologically by photos that evoke exactly the style I want to have or the setting I want to be in. The latest Pom Pom Quarterly is kind of amazing at this, as well as Emily Foden’s Knits about Winter. For the latter, especially, the aesthetic of that book is SO gorgeous and appealing to me that I want to knit the patterns, even though if you took them out of that aesthetic, in a vacuum, I might not be interested at all. I think this kind of appeal is kind of at the extremes though – while a lot of designers have very distinct aesthetics, most patterns seem to be presented a little more neutrally or universally. For instance, I love tons of Joji Locatelli’s patterns, and they’re always beautifully shot and presented, but the background/setting is a backdrop for the patterns rather than a key player in its own right, as in Knits about Winter and somewhat Pom Pom. Sorry to be wordy, I’m having a hard time articulating this!)
I’m drawn in by vivid colors or interesting shapes or techniques. The last two sweaters I knit were Carbeth and Andrea Mowry’s Comfort Fade Cardi. They are similar only in that their knitted in one piece- but I was highly motivated and engaged through both projects, but for different reasons.
Being able to imagine wearing it is really important for me to cast on. I try to knit for wardrobe holes, but more importantly I need to know I will wear it. I use smaller projects when I want to learn new techniques before taking it to a sweater level.
The first thing I look at is whether it’s something I (or the intended recipient) would actually use. If it would sit in the closet, it’s a no-go, regardless of how cute it might look in the photos. Sometimes I look at a pattern and realize that as written, it wouldn’t be right, but there are relatively easy modifications that would make it work. For instance, Carbeth: I’ve never been a huge fan of the cropped sweater with enormous ease, layered over other things. My proportions are such that I feel like that look emphasizes all the parts of me I don’t care to emphasize. But that sweater with just a little bit of ease, combined with enough length to cover my waistband and a bit more works beautifully enough that I knitted two pullovers and a cardigan. I may have been just slightly obsessed with it.
The next thing I consider is whether it would be fun enough to knit that I’ll actually want to make it. I’m not a fan of fiddly little bits, so I don’t usually make stuffed animals and the like. I don’t enjoy knitting miles and miles of anything that feel like they go on forever without looking like you’re actually making progress, so I don’t consider making afghans (unless friends and I are getting together and making squares or other modules that get put together). But if it uses a stitch pattern that will break things up (especially if it’s something that makes it easier to count, if that’s important) I’m all in. If it’s a baby sweater that I know I can finish in a reasonable amount of time, yes please. If it’s an adult sweater that’s simple enough that I can work on it while I read or listen to podcasts or socialize with friends or watch TV, definitely. I enjoy more complicated patterns too, but between the rest of my life and the cats, I have a limit to the amount of time I can work on them without going to extremes.
Finally, if I can make it with stash yarn, that’s even more of a bonus.
Interesting question and for me, there is no singular criterium. Before I rediscovered knitting I was an avid sewist, selftought. At first I fell for the typical big 4 patterns and monthly fancy magasins, whom gravitate to often easy, on trend silhouttes that look good on models and are really more a “buy fabric and make a dozen items you’ll wear once or twice and just take up space in your wardrobe” because those patterns are not always the best, construction and design wise. I soon became fed up with that and realised that poor fit was often the reason why garments never saw the outside of the wardrobe. So I learned about adjusting sewing patterns for hollow back, broad forward leaning shoulders, short torso, scoliosis spine, and with that, recognising what would suit me and what not. Together with a more sustainable, slow fashion approach it changed my view on patterns to like. That knowledge came in handy when starting to knit, though knit is much more forgiving then sewn wovens. So, I still get attracted to a ton of knitting patterns for beautiful colors And pictures, or that tiny well thought of design element that makes it stand out from the 10s of other similar patterns, but I apply some reasoning, do my research, try to understand if I’d need to adapt something for a different fit. And of course, browse projects pages on ravelry, over and over again. Where would we be without!
As for the Carbeth, me too, I had been obsessing over it for months but holding back, unsure about the flare at the bottom. But than, this summer, I visited the New Lanark heritage mill (yarn which kate uses often and they also spin her buchaille). They had the Carbeth on display and seeing it up close was the decider. I’m on my second version, this time tapering the bottom to have my preffered fit.